Czech History in Verse

Velvet Rain

Jillian Castoro

can you hear the thousands

of little owls cooing?

their volume led to

a communal undoing

reverberating echoes

steady silk precipitation

simultaneous harmonies

for a peaceful castration

the storm’s dribbles built

puddles that flooded the street

united dissidents who

refused to accept defeat

the nation endured

a tumultuous past

nazism then warsaw

flags still at half mast

the heat of Jan Palach

and sparks by many others

lit the way to inspire

free-thinking sisters and brothers

communism's grip bruised

the nation's neck

debilitated vocal chords

still sang in czech

this is a story of those

who refused to give up

dissidents who remind

us we need to stand up

the spirits of Jan Opletal

and all else forced to fall

can still oust a regime and

overhear a crumbling wall

linking arms and bare hands

voices and bodies began to flood

proving that revolutions need not

be measured in skin and blood

peaceful marching on

November 17, 1989

thousands united can

create one large spine

Havel’s gust reminds

the elderly and the youth

power in numbers when

pursuing freedom and truth

nic netrvá věčně

nothing lasts forever

growing protests had

the strength to sever

merging shadows dancing

lit by voices and candlelight

police brutality met with

liquified velvet not a violent fight

Havel na hrad

dreams can come true

forums and vocal saturation

no need for a violent coup

warm sun’s glow after the

storm and growing pain

harmonious owls cooing

may velvet reign


Christopher Friedman

kde domov můj, kde vlast je má wo ist meine heimat kde je moja vlasť כאָומלאַנד מיין איז ווו quê hương của tôi ở đâu где моя родина

Sa e manušikane strukture bijandžona tromane thaj jekhutne ko digniteti thaj capipa. Von si baxtarde em barvale gndaja thaj godžaja thaj trubun jekh avereja te

kherjakeren ko vodži pralipaja.

Říkáte se česky. Co jste dělali před rokem 1989?

Přesto bych raději měla jako souseda. Aspoň nejste nejhorší lidé, jsou lháři, násilníci, zloději, nejhorší lidé.

Ne, nesnáším je, nejsem komunista, nejsem nacista,

Nejsem jako oni.

Ne, nevidím je, nejhorší lidé. Setkal jsem se s nimi? Ne, to by nebylo nebezpečné, a jak jsem řekl, že je stejně nevidím.

Lovili je, ale nevidím je.

To není to samé. Je to pokrok, je to dost.

English Translation:

where is my homeland (in Czech, German, Slovak, Yiddish, Vietnamese, Russian)

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

(in Romani)

You call yourself Czech? What were you doing before 1989?

Still I’d rather have you as a neighbor. At least you’re not the worst people, they’re liars, rapists, thieves, the worst people.

No I don’t hate them, I’m not a Communist, I’m not a Nazi, I’m not like them.

No I don’t see them, the worst people. Have I met them? No, no that would be dangerous, and like I said I don’t see them anyway.

They hunted them, but I don’t see them. It’s not the same. It’s progress, it’s enough. (in Czech)


Joyce Lee

They were a lost people, is what I heard

When you wander through war and emerge from its chaos,

identity is the thing you cling to

fast, fall back

on a cold winter’s eve

There is nothing real if the self cannot knit together

what it knows to be true

what it holds fast in memory

what then renders the Old Ways false

A lost people will build their own prisons, is what I heard

The Red bled into Prague, yes

Carved its way into her foundations

Coaxed her people into hope with a dream

The freedom of white and blue

drenched in blood, yes

But what is the death of dissidents


to the dying nation

to her people who have seen red

caked on their fingernails

in the massacre of Sudeten brothers?

Tell me, what is a life in shadow

to a people still scrubbing skin raw

scrubbing soul clean

from the ash of war?

A lost people will become protean, is what I heard

No self can stand, so no self shall

In unbecoming, the lost people find solace

(The revolutionary says, this plague is homegrown,

they who claim dictatorship were elected, you know)

When walking the streets of Prague today

would you ever know whose eyes saw the terror and submitted?

Would you know whose red lips brushed the knuckle

of that horrid, horrid Red and spilled the dissidents’ souls?

After all

After all this

What is it to be Czech

if not reserved

if not ever-watching

if not at heart wishing

for stillness in the movement

for silence from the drone

for the Singularity in this collective?

The Velvet Revolution was a rebellion, is what I heard

A protean people knowing they were still lost

Knowing that submission does not mean being knit together

Knowing that building these supports that will sooner become

Prison rather than spine

A protean people becoming resistance

But unknowing if the Red can be removed

A revolution implies force,

a vision for the future awaiting realization

A rebellion implies the inevitable,

a desperation for change coming to a head

Prague is a lost people, is what I heard

Even now the Red hangs

From the arches of hallways

Lifeblood hard to remove and only capable of fading

A lost people still finding

Still building

Another palace

Another prison

Another unknown

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